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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Can Female Leaders Mitigate Negative Effects of Diversity?: The Case of National Leaders

Katherine Phillips, Professor of Management, Columbia Business School

Ethnic diversity can have negative effects, increasing the potential for perceived inequities, negative conflict, and communication difficulties in groups and organizations that can lead to negative performance outcomes. Consistent with these findings political economists have also shown that ethnic fractionalization, essentially a measure of country-level diversity, undermines GDP growth of a country. Mitigating these negative effects of diversity at all levels is critical and research on leadership and gender differences suggests that female leaders may be in a unique position to help manage the difficulties that can accompany diversity. We use a multi-methods research approach to examine the perceived and actual influence of male and female national leaders in countries characterized by more or less ethnic fractionalization. We first examine people's perceptions of male and female country leaders and how well they might fit as leaders of ethnically fractionalized countries. Two studies with national adult samples indicate that female candidates were perceived to be more effective leaders than male candidates when the country had high ethnic diversity but not significantly so when there was low ethnic diversity. Female leaders were expected to improve perceived ethnic inequities and the economic situation of the country better than male presidents. Evidence of moderated mediation was found suggesting that a fit of female leadership strengths to the particular needs of highly diverse environments account for expected improvements in country-level economics. Using a unique dataset we also analyzed over 10,000 leader-year observations in 188 countries over a 55-year period and found that countries characterized by higher ethnic fractionalization and greater difficulty to lead (a country level indicator) had greater GDP growth when they had female rather than male leaders. While causation is not possible to prove, the results suggest countries that have high ethnic fractionalization and difficulty to lead scores stand to uniquely benefit from female leadership. Implications for understanding the intersection of gender and ethnic diversity in complex environments are discussed.

Cosponsored by the Program on Negotiation, Harvard Law School

Lunch will be provided. An RSVP is not required as this is an open event.

  • Location:
    WAPPP Cason Seminar Room, Taubman Building, Room 102
  • Date:
    Thursday, February 14, 2013
  • Time:
    11:40 AM

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